I've painted myself into a box...
May 16, 2012 6:17 PM   Subscribe

What are the top "best practices" for graphic designers?

I'm being transferred to another department at work. Whereas in my current position my ability to "design" was a "nice-to-have" bonus on top of my planning/writing skills, in my new role the tables will turn - I'll be working in a production shop doing mostly graphic design. (If you're wondering how that happened - it's a long story...)

Anyway, I am excited about the move, but terrified of the implications. I have no formal training in design. I'm entirely self-taught with about 8 years of experience in tinkering. I'm comfortable using all the software and I usually achieve the results I want. The thing is, in the past my "clients", so to speak, have always been "none the wiser," in the sense that none of them had any clue about design but were so grateful to have someone there who could do the work and only really cared about the final product.

I'm worried, though, that now I"ll be working with professional designers I have some pretty big blind spots in terms of the process. I fear I've developed bad habits or inefficient workarounds that will, at worst, reveal me to be something of a fraud or, at best, make additional work for myself/my co-workers.

I want to know what are the "best practices" for graphic designers. I'm not talking about design or color theory or anything (I'm well versed in those topics). It's more things like using layers rationally or color management or preparing for reproductions properly, etc. (there are a million other things that could be part of this -- feel free to free associate).

For designers, or those who work with designers, what do you expect from a professional designer? What are some red flags? What are habits to avoid/cultivate? What will make me look stupid/smart? What did you wish you knew about best practices when you first started out in the field?

(anon only because current/future employers know me here!)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto for Web Designers might have relevant information for other non-web mediums.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:12 PM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

First best practise (at least for me) would be to tell the professional designers you're working with "Hey, I've just moved over from the planning/writing department, so I don't really know which ropes you do different here - if you have any preferred workflows, conventions, stuff like that, any guidance that you think will make it easier for you to work with me, send it my way! Thanks!"

As I see it, you're the new guy, so you're allowed to be the new guy. No need to shore up a facade that you've already got this down. You just got there, so it's ok to ask people already there to show you the ropes.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:25 PM on May 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

-harlequin- hit it but I'll repeat. Ask about the standards of everyone you work with for layering, colors, fonts, file management, work flow, etc. My guess is that your new colleagues will be *thrilled* to be working with someone interested in learning how they prefer to do things, rather than coming in with your own predetermined ideas of what is the best way.

In general, the more you can use masks, styles and other modifiers that have modifiable variables and don't change the source materials/layers the more easily you work can be tweaked by others should the need arise. And learn and follow the file/workflow management system.
posted by meinvt at 7:48 PM on May 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't know how much you'll be working with editors, but from my experience as an editor, there are a couple of things that always make my Spidey sense tingle with a designer: 1) making all corrections onto a master file instead of keeping new versions for every round of corrections, which is a pain from an editorial point of view because then there's no fixed record of a project's phases (and thus no easy way just to go back to a previous version of something); 2) text-wise, being lazy or sloppy with kerning, leading, word breaks, and ragging, which (fair or not) suggests to me that the designer isn't really working with a reader in mind.
posted by scody at 7:57 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a freelance designer with no formal training but lots of experience, and I've worked with quite a few designers that do have formal training.

1) Everyone has their own workflow standards, so to echo: ask what the shop's standards are, in terms of file & version management, etc. Perhaps ask to see some of their working files to get a sense of their workflow habits.

2) Keep your layers and files organized and well-labelled, especially if others will be digging through them.

3) Be sure to use the right software for the right purpose. Don't lay out a brochure in Photoshop, for instance.

4) Make non-destructive edits as much as possible (what meinvt said) by using masks, groups and filters without flattening.

5) Get familiar with final deliverable requirements for production. It can be embarrassing to submit a file that's riddled with color, layer or format errors.
posted by blastrid at 11:08 PM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some basics...
• Photoshop is not a design tool.
• RGB for web. CMYK for print. Do not submit a file to a printer with both RGB and CMYK elements.
• Web resolution (i.e. 72ppi) is NOT appropriate for print, where 300ppi is the default resolution. Thus, you can't just grab a logo off the website and use it on a printed brochure.
• Re-size a photo in Photoshop to the size it will print, then save it as a new file. Do not simply place an 8x10, 25meg photo into your layout, and then scale it down to 25%. This creates crazy-huge files and slows down the RIP at the printer.
• Definitely ask questions of the regulars and pay attention to their workflows. Most important, ask how they prefer to prepare files for delivery to their printer (assuming you do print work). Especially pay attention to color management practices.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Before you officially start in your new role, ask to see some of your future coworkers' files; if they use a shared folder ask for access to it. (If you're nervous about accidentally screwing up their work, save copies to your desktop so you can feel free to poke about.) You'll get a sense for how they organize their layers, and you may discover quicker ways of doing things you've improvised workarounds for.

And don't hesitate to ask even the smallest questions. They brought you to the design team because you have chops; learning the "official" way of doing things will just make you even better.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

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